On Politics: Dialing down political rhetoric; seeking unity (opinion)
White supremacist groups convening in Virginia and Washington; Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D – CA) inciting voters to violence; DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen mobbed and ejected from a D.C. restaurant; Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson using GOP Congressmen at baseball practice for shooting targets; the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada organizing a demonstration against Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Peppermill Reno Casino … has everybody gone nuts?
Wait, there’s a voice of reason. USA Today reported (one group tries to lower the volume on the high-decibel noise dividing a polarized nation) on a group called “Better Angels” formed by both blue state and red state voters in Ohio shortly after Donald Trump’s election. Their aim is not to convert others but to try to understand how people on opposite sides of volatile policy issues formed their political opinions. And importantly to listen patiently to those rationales and not hurl epithets such as “Nazi,” “racist” and other conversation-ending utterances. Their watchword is “respect.”
The name “Better Angels” is derived from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address in which he sought to dissuade the nation, particularly the south where some states had already seceded, from engaging in full-scale civil war by appealing to “the better angels of our nature.” We should all wish them Godspeed.
Our first Republican president actually had a lot in common with Donald Trump. Lincoln’s election triggered secession conventions in the southern states which inspired firebrands to gather in groups to vent. Traveling from Illinois to his inauguration, the presidential party had to detrain in Baltimore and walk a mile for the train to D.C., dodging gangs of armed secessionists.
On March 4, 1861, Lincoln was inaugurated president and delivered a speech that promised no hostility to slavery and strict enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, but warned that the union of states must be preserved at all costs. There was no TV or Twitter then, so public reaction to his “better angels” speech was recorded in newspapers of the day.
The southern papers universally condemned the speech as a declaration of war. Northern reaction was mixed. And as one might guess, abolitionists considered the concessions to slavery a knife in the back.
Lincoln’s “better angels” did not ameliorate subsequent events. A month later Confederates attacked and captured Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, precipitating the Civil War. Two months later the Union Army was pummeled at Bull Run and fled back to Washington in disarray.
Lincoln never lost his faith in the union; the fortunes of battle slowly turned. In 1862 he emancipated the slaves. In 1864 the brand new State of Nevada added its three electoral votes to his overwhelming election victory. His second inaugural address was given March 4, 1865, barely a month before Lee’s surrender.
He did not abandon his belief in “better angels” but drew extensively from the Bible, imploring both northerner and southerner: “With malice toward none, with charity for all … let us strive … to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
It was barely another month before an assassin’s bullet took him.
Happily Lincoln’s “better angels” have been resurrected as a bipartisan citizen’s movement to unify our divided nation. By bringing all Americans together into a working alliance, they’re building new ways to talk to one another.
Given the often uncivil nature of our local political discourse, we could use a chapter in Incline/Crystal Bay.
No cost to join unless you want to donate: http://www.better-angels.org.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.